26-year-old COVID-19 survivor encourages young people to get vaxxed after his own ‘grueling’ battle

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BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (WMBD) — McLean County is leading the way in Central Illinois in regard to individuals being fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Nearly 43% of the county’s total population is fully protected according to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).

County health officials said they’re glad to be in the state’s top 10, however they’re still not satisfied with the results.

According to Marianne Manko, public affairs coordinator for McLean County Health Department (MCHD), people in their 20s are showing low vaccination rates and higher rates of infection.

According to IDPH and the MCHD, just 22% of residents in the age 20-24 range are fully vaccinated within the county. For ages 25-29, it’s just 30%. However, in the age 30-34 range that number jumps to 37%.

Manko said many people in their 20’s believe internet rumors that the virus won’t seriously affect them. However, a young adult who works at MCHD hopes his story changes people’s minds.

Last year, 26-year-old Kyle Hopta said his life changed forever after testing positive for COVID-19. Hopta, a CrossFit competitor and former law enforcement officer, said it was like nothing he ever experienced.

“I have a background in law enforcement, I have been in the middle of hurricanes, but this was the first time I thought, ‘Am I going to die?” Hopta said. “I remember four of the most grueling nights of my life, sitting there with a pulse-ox meter on my finger, talking to my significant other wondering, ‘Is this going to be time where I don’t wake up?”

Hopta eventually pulled through, but is still dealing with issues a young, healthy man normally wouldn’t.

“Thickening of the blood, problems with my endocrine, problems with my thyroid, I mean there’s been significant issues that I’ve had that doctors can’t really nail down and are very uncommon for someone in our age group,” Hopta said. “You don’t really understand what it’s like to not be able to breathe until you can’t breathe. I have a newfound respect for people that are on oxygen or that need some sort of assistance in that way because it’s the most scary thing in the world.”

The virus even affected his ability to partake in CrossFit- an activity he loves.

“It’s something I love to do. But, as I restarted, I noticed I couldn’t run as far or lift as much. I was just mentally too tired to push through,” Hopta said.

As the state moves into phase five reopening on Friday, Manko said those who are still unprotected bare the greatest risk of catching the virus as many; vaccinated or not, will ditch the masks.

“The virus needs human hosts to jump from one host to the other in order to multiply, in order to mutate, in order to become stronger/deadlier. When you’re vaccinated, you’re not allowing yourself to be that human host,” Manko said.

Manko said 20-somethings should be mindful of where and what they hear on social media, especially when it comes to personal health.

“We need to be getting our advice from medical professionals, not from rumors, not from the internet, not from the nail salon, the bait and tackle shop or bar up the street. From medical professionals,” Manko said.

Hopta now works as the contact tracing coordinator at the MCHD and said he wants others his age to take this virus seriously and encourages vaccination.

“You might be able to roll the dice and get lucky, but that doesn’t mean that somebody in your social circle isn’t immuno-compromise. That doesn’t mean a family member or loved one won’t be affected,” Hopta said.

To date, more than 152,000 doses have been administered in McLean County and more than 11.7 million statewide.

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